NASA has selected 14 companies for contracts of more than $370 million to advance technology for human missions to the moon and Mars. Most of the money will support flight demonstrations by SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, and other companies that could lead to in-space refueling and propellant depots for reusable lunar landers and deep space transportation vehicles.
NASA officials released a nearly five-year, $28 billion plan Monday to return astronauts to the surface of the moon before the end of 2024, but the agency’s administrator said the “aggressive” timeline set by the Trump administration last year hinges on Congress approving $3.2 billion in the next few months to kick-start development of new human-rated lunar landers.
House lawmakers this week proposed to fund NASA’s human-rated lunar lander development program at less than one-fifth of the level the Trump administration wanted, but NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Wednesday the House budget bill is just the “opening salvo” in an appropriations process that now goes to the Senate.
SpaceX’s proposal to land astronauts on the moon using the company’s reusable Starship vehicle could be “game-changing” for space exploration, but comes with risks and complexity that “threaten the schedule viability” to achieve NASA’s goal of returning crews moon by the end of 2024, agency officials said.
The next time astronauts land on the moon, they will ride to the lunar surface in a spacecraft that looks a lot different than the Apollo-era landing module last used in 1972. Lander concepts proposed by SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics — which won a combined $967 million in NASA funding Thursday — take wildly different approaches to carrying crews to the moon.